Humid August days are synonymous with the start of high school football in Pennsylvania. Coaches gather a large group of prospective players on fields around the state for the ultimate goal of winning a championship.
The storylines are always similar, with last year’s highly touted athletes graduating, replaced by teenagers hoping to create their own legacy.
In WPIAL’s Class A, the reliance on new players is magnified by small rosters and parity across all four conferences.
As WPIAL football teams open camp today, it marks the first time Fort Cherry head coach Jim Shiel’s program experienced a drastic overhaul since he arrived in 2012. Nine months after the Rangers completed a 10-3 season, which ended with a 52-35 loss to Clairton in the WPIAL Class A quarterfinals, Shiel is looking for the next wave of talent to carry the historic program.
Replacing one of the district’s best running backs and a record-setting quarterback is a tall task for a Class A school which will now compete with powerhouse North Catholic for the Black Hills Conference title.
“We really don’t know what our identity is yet,” Shiel said. “I’m sure we’ll find one. We have a lot of skill on our senior side. Our line is pretty young and a lot of those guys are returning, but skill-wise, we lost a lot. We lost a quarterback, tailback and tight end.”
Running back Koltan Kobrys rushed 212 times for 2,262 yards and 29 total touchdowns in 2013. Quarterback Matt Heslin threw 33 touchdowns with tight end Zak Dysert as his top target.
All three are gone, with Kobrys taking his talents to Edinboro and Heslin at Washington & Jefferson.
Senior Anthony Pinizza is the front runner to start at quarterback, but the other spots are vacant. As the Rangers report for camp, competition is the theme.
Shiel is well aware that tailbacks such as Kobrys are a rare commodity. Because of that, he’s not necessarily looking for one replacement.
“I feel like we have running backs who can get the job done,” Shiel said. “We may not get that kind of production out of one individual, but we have four individuals combined who can give us that kind of production.”
Fort Cherry’s conference rival, Chartiers-Houston, is in the same predicament. Quarterback Kaleb Susko and his top target, wide receiver Miles Williamson, are gone from last season’s six-win team. Alec Ferrari returns from injury to play quarterback, while the rest is up for grabs.
Bucs head coach Terry Fetsko, in his ninth camp at C-H, is accustomed to the roster turnover at a Class A school where finding replacements at skill positions is an annual task. He views camp as “a beginning point.”
“You start all over and you need the players to learn what they’re doing, where they’re going and clean up small things,” Fetsko said. “It’s nice to see kids run around and get to have some contact. We need to get them on the field and have the older kids who play more understand each role.”
Carmichaels lost one of its top senior classes in recent memory when quarterback Brandon Lawless, receiver Ty Aeschbacher and running back Brennen McMinn graduated. The three led the Mikes to eight wins a season ago with Lawless passing for 19 touchdowns, 17 of which went to Aeschbacher, and McMinn rushing for 10 touchdowns.
As he prepares for his second camp, head coach Ryan Krull is left with a mostly unproven roster. While the losses are felt, they are not discussed.
“This is a great time of year,” Krull said. “The coaching staff is super excited. The players are excited. They have told me that. There are a lot of opportunities for these kids and they understand that. They are happy about it.”